1748
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To the Honourable [Charles Townsend].

A Collection of Poems in three Volumes. By Several Hands. Second Edition. [Robert Dodsley, ed.]

William Whitehead


A Horatian ode in eight irregular Spenserians (ababcC). Charles Townsend (1725-67) later Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a younger contemporary of Whitehead's at Cambridge; he took his M.A. at Cambridge in 1749.

Horace Walpole: "This was Charles Townshend, second son of my Lord Townshend, a young man of unbounded ambition, of exceeding application, and, as it now appeared, of abilities capable of satisfying that ambition, and of not wanting that application: yet to such parts and such industry he was fond of associating all the little arts and falsehoods that always depreciate, though so often thought necessary by, a genius. He had been an early favourite of Lord Halifax, and had already distinguished himself on affairs of trade, and in drawing plans and papers for that province; but not rising in proportion to his ambition, he comforted himself with employing as many stratagems as had ever been imputed to the most successful statesman. His figure was tall and advantageous, his action vehement, his laugh louder. He had art enough to disguise anything but his vanity" 1753; in Memoirs of the Reign of King George II (1847) 1:340-41.

Isaac Reed: "Second son of Charles, the third Viscount Townsend. This accomplished gentleman, after filling some of the highest posts under government with distinguished honour, died Sept. 4, 1767, aged 42 years" in Dodsley, Collection of Poems (1782) 2:260n.

Edmund Gosse: "Still more artificial [than Shenstone's], still more mild and colourless, are the productions of William Whitehead (1715-1785), the laureate, who, nevertheless, has some indefinite claim to be called a poet. His epistles on The Danger of Writing Verse (1741) and Ridicule (1743) were incessantly scoffed at by Churchill; his little epitaphs, 'similes,' fables, and songs are often happier in their simplicity" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 231.

Herbert E. Cory: "William Whitehead, the dull laureate, who had employed the Prior-Spenserian stanza in his Vision of Solomon (1730), seems to have been one of the first of an Augustan group to employ another variation of the Spenserian stanza. In his two Odes to Charles Townsend he used the rhyme-scheme ababcC. This stanza was quite as popular as Prior's variation. Christopher Smart, before he went mad and composed his superb Hymn to David, used it in his Hymn to the Supreme Being on Recovery from a Dangerous fit of Illness, in a moment of dull sanity. For the Wartons, deepest of the acknowledged lovers of Spenser, used it in their imitations of their idol" "Spenser, Thomson, and Romanticism" PMLA 26 (1911) 60.

Julius Nicholas Hook saw nothing of Spenser here — diction, images, nor allegory; "Eighteenth-Century Imitations of Spenser" (1941) 87. Yet Whitehead's manner may be described as a "polite" or Horatian variation of academic Spenserianism, a convergence of town and gown. The use of stanzas where readers in the 1740s would have expected couplets was a form of subtle archaizing typical of many poems in Robert Dodsley's famous anthology, replete with "ode and elegy and sonnet."

Raymond D. Havens writes of Dodsley's Collection: "It is doubtful if a better anthology of contemporary poetry was ever made. This is not to deny that other anthologies have contained greater contemporary poetry, but Dodsley was not to blame if Shakespeare and Shelley were not writing in 1750," "Changing Taste in the Eighteenth Century, A Study of Dryden's and Dodsley's Miscellanies" (1929) 520.



O CHARLES, in absence hear a friend complain,
Who knows thou lov'st him whereso'er he goes,
Yet feels uneasy starts of idle pain,
And often would be told the thing he knows.
Why then, thou loiterer, fleets the silent year,
How dar'st thou give a friend unnecessary fear?

We are not now beside that osier'd stream,
Where erst we wander'd, thoughtless of the way;
We do not now of distant ages dream,
And cheat in converse half the ling'ring day;
No fancied heroes rise at our command,
And no TIMOLEON weeps, and bleeds no THEBAN band.

Yet why complain? thou feel'st no want like these,
From me, 'tis true, but me alone debar'd,
Thou still in GRANTA'S shades enjoy'st at ease
The books we reverenc'd, and the friends we shar'd;
Nor seest without such aids the day decline,
Nor think'st how much their loss has added weight to thine.

Truth's genuine voice, the freely-opening mind,
Are thine, are friendship's, and retirement's lot;
To conversation is the world confin'd,
Friends of an hour, who please and are forgot;
And interest stains, and vanity controuls
The pure unsullied thoughts, and sallies of our souls.

O I remember, and with pride repeat
The rapid progress which our friendship knew!
Even at the first with willing minds we met,
And ere the root was fix'd the branches grew,
In vain had fortune plac'd her weak barrier,
Clear was thy breast from pride, and mine from servile fear.

I saw thee gen'rous, and with joy can say,
My education rose above my birth,
Thanks to those parent shades, on whose cold clay
Fall fast my tears, and lightly lie the earth!
To them I owe whate'er I dare pretend,
Thou saw'st with partial eyes, and bade me call thee friend.

Let others meanly heap the treasur'd store,
And aukward fondness cares on cares employ
To leave a race more exquisitely poor,
Possess'd of riches which they ne'er enjoy:
He's only kind who takes the noble way
T' unbind the springs of thought and give them pow'r to play.

His heirs shall bless him, and look down with scorn
On vulgar pride from vaunted heroes sprung;
Lords of themselves, thank heaven that they were born
Above the sordid miser's glitt'ring dung,
Above the servile grandeur of a throne,
For they are nature's heirs, and all her works their own.

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